Jesus gets mocked. A lot.
I’ve always known that people mock Jesus in each telling of the Passion. But I am struck by how the gospel we call Luke uses the mocking of Jesus as a recurring theme.The mockery is an active participant, a character in the story. Click To Tweet
For Luke, the mocking isn’t incidental. It isn’t used to describe how every single person hates Jesus. It is central to the nature of the story. It is brutality. It is unjust. It is the very difference between GOD’s Different World and the world as we know it. The mockery is an active participant, a character in the story.
To get at how mocking works in Luke, let’s see how Jesus sees himself in relationship to the people.
The people are confused by who Jesus is. Jesus reveals that they have abusive expectations.
In chapter 7, Jesus, frustrated by the way the people weren’t listening to John or comprehending how serious this work is, says in verses 31-32:
‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,
“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not weep.”
The people didn’t understand John, Jesus, or the prophetic tradition. As Jesus describes it, the people see the prophet as not just a dancer who would dance to music, but one who dances on command. It reminds me of the organ grinder with a monkey.
Jesus looks at the people as expressing power – demanding miracles of the prophet and proving their giftedness about GOD for their pleasure or for their proof, rather than for the revelation of GOD.
Jesus is revealing a pattern of abusive behavior among the people.
The Disciples expect that Jesus will make them powerful.
Later, in chapter 9, when Jesus has been teaching, foretelling his death, showing to them the gravity of the ministry, going up the mountain for the transfiguration, then foretelling his death and passion again, we have the disciples so clueless that they are arguing over which of them is the greatest disciple.
This, just verses after a disgraceful scene in which none of them could heal a boy. Something they did a couple of chapters earlier.
After Jesus criticizes them and then they argue over who is the greatest, we see how well they heard that message: they try to prevent a stranger from exorcising demons in the name of Jesus.
The followers not only don’t get what Jesus is about, they are fundamentally betraying his teaching by denying those who are to be included.
The disciples are more interested in their power and their position in the Jesus Movement than they are in fulfilling the ministry of Jesus.
We are introduced to the abuse Jesus will receive.
The third warning of Jesus’s death, found in chapter 18, adds a new prediction about the Passion to come. He warns of his being mocked and spat upon.
Jesus as the Messiah and Son of Humanity will go to Jerusalem to die. An unthinkable outcome to a new king and general who would ensure military victory and independence from the occupying empire.
More unthinkable still that their great hero would be tortured, mocked, abused. The psychological warfare of not only defeating an enemy in battle but dehumanizing the enemy, beating and mocking him, stringing him up so that the world can see how small he is and how mighty the empire is. Jesus invokes the most fearful idea of what is to come: that their Messiah will be tortured and degraded and cast aside like garbage.
When we get to the Passion, the Disciples still don’t understand Jesus is talking about power.
After the Triumphal Entry, that bit of street theater which reveals the weakness in the Roman Empire in its obsession with power and reveals that the power of the Kingdom of GOD comes in the form of weakness and compassion for the poor, Jesus spends the next few days teaching about power and authority.
Then, when the Passover arrives, when they all gather around the table, Jesus teaches his disciples, his closest followers the most important practice in the coming days. He shows them that sharing will be their custom by sharing of himself with them. Do the disciples understand? No. They again argue over who is the greatest.
So Jesus reveals the kind of power GOD is into.
Jesus responds to their selfishness and ego by describing what “the greatest” really does.
The greatest of the world sits at the table and the rest serve him. And yet Jesus, their master and teacher, has just served them.
He is essentially saying to them:
“Dudes, you guys are following me. And I’m serving you. You think I’m the greatest, so shouldn’t I sit at the table and you all serve me. But are you? You are sitting. I’m the one making this happen while you get to sit there. In my world, the world GOD is revealing, the greatest is the one serving at the table, not being served. Get it?”
The writer of Luke uses this sense of high / low and greatest / servant to show how confused our priorities are and how much trouble the disciples have in following this way of Jesus. In Jesus’s Upside Down Economy, greatness is not expressed in humiliation and death, but in service and life. Greatness is expressed in giving and sharing, not stealing and oppressing.
This means that in GOD’s Different World, the lowliest are the greatest, not the subject of mockery. The servants are to be raised up and treasured, not abused or ridiculed.
As we enter into the Passion, we will see how this plays out. At every step, Jesus, the greatest is mocked and abused. This proves the weakness of Empire in GOD’s eyes: the weakness of its abuse, mockery, and violence.
Everybody with power mocks Jesus.
The chief priests and elders, Herod, even Pilate declares him innocent and yet has him flogged. The soldiers. The bystanders. The criminal on the cross. All of them mock Jesus.
Every moment, every point, Jesus is abused. Physically and emotionally. So many take the opportunity to hurt him, that it is surprising that one of the condemned on a neighboring cross doesn’t. He sees the kingdom.
Not Pilate, so eager to dispose of Jesus, to get him off his hands, finding no basis for having him executed, declares to the crowd
- That Jesus is innocent
- So he will beat him
- And set him free.
Innocent, to be freed, but still beaten.
Innocent, but beaten. Innocent, then killed.
In Luke, Jesus doesn’t blaspheme or claim any authority. He doesn’t give any justification for being hated, tried, or executed. He is totally innocent. At no point does Jesus even give the hint of justification.
Yet the people mock him. They mock the innocent. They have him beaten. They abuse him themselves. Then they kill him.
Jesus reveals the Sinister character of emotional abuse.
There is something deeply troubling, sinister to me, the way the mocking is used in Luke. It is universal, normative. The suffering of an innocent man at the hands of vile cruelty. So not the metaphysic, cosmic collaboration with GOD or a crucifixion at the hands of a villainous Jewish people as in John. So much more frightening than our happy Easter celebrations.
This unjustified cruelty toward the innocent, the servant, the weak, the immigrant, the hated; naturally based only on sincerely-held belief and the confidence of GOD’s favor.
Like the mocking and abuse of our immigrants and transgendered persons. Like the abuse of the poor and the disabled for their inability to work. Like the degrading treatment we give those working in the appropriately named service industry. And like the way we tell the poor to simply “get a job” without ensuring such a thing is possible for them or criticize the hard work of others because it isn’t the type of work we value.
In Jesus’s Upside Down Economy, the immigrant laborer who cleans the toilet is the greatest and the CEO who fills it is called to serve her.
The brutality Jesus experiences is especially vicious in Luke; even having Pilate trade off responsibility with Herod, only to find Jesus innocent yet again. But beat him anyway. Then, under pressure, he allows himself to kill the innocent man. Politics, I guess. The greater good, I suppose. It is the blood-thirst of the leadership which gets Jesus his death sentence. And the expediency of control Pilate uses.
We punish the guilty and innocent alike with emotional abuse. And justify it.
The mocking, abuse, and death are of all the same: they are the brutality thrust upon the innocent; the horror of empire and lust for security and control.
Our concerns about bathrooms and the frailty of our marriages and our convictions about birth control: the justifications for Christian abuse of the other, for Christian mockery and hatred, for Christian conviction of the innocent: these should send chills down the spines of the faithful. Precisely because of what Jesus taught the disciples; teaches us.
The greatest serve. They don’t sit at the table of power.
And Jesus just flipped over the tables of power in the Temple.
Far too many American Christians desire all the spoils of both Christianity and America, and yet seek to deny them to the LGBTQ community, to people of color, to low-income families, to non-Christians.
In short, we want to be Jesus to ourselves and Pharaoh to everybody else; abundantly blessed but hard-hearted and unwilling to share the wealth.
To GOD, the one who is powerful, the abuser, the one who mocks and convicts: he is the least, the last, the one who prevents GOD’s Different World from being realized. Abusing the least, the innocent, firing them from work and kicking them out of bathrooms? That stuff isn’t Christian. At all.
To be Christian is actually serving them at the table.